Being the youngest of four and the only girl, Lewisburg helped open my eyes up to the kind of family that we were. We moved around a lot. We lived life with great enthusiasm. We took it all in. We were not the “armchair” Smiths.
My Uncle Bill would drive with his two young children over from Charleston on most weekends to stay in his log cabin in the woods. He built this cabin single handedly and with great pride (this fact was listed in his obituary many years later). It had, and still does have, an outhouse and no running water. My cousins Margie and Will would stay in their zip up pajamas all weekend. They lived and enjoyed the simple things in life. (By the way, I was devastated when this man we so lovingly called “Uncle Bill” died. He was a special force, a gentle giant, a kind soul that you dreaded to see leave this world. We all miss him to pieces. He was one of a kind.)
My other uncle once drove to Lewisburg for Thanksgiving (for one night) with his four young kids from Jacksonville, Florida. They made the long, thirteen-hour drive in their two-door white 1970’s Cadillac Eldorado. This was the first time my cousin, Curly Caroline, ever saw snow. She and I were both in the 3rd grade.
These are our people…living life fully – driving from Florida for a family meal and keeping your onesies on. Living life to the fullest, taking it all in. I try to practice this today.
My dad’s passion for Lewisburg spilled over onto his children. He always talked about this “sacred land” and, being of the Scotch-Irish descent, how the “land was the soul of the man.” Mowing grass on my granddad’s red 1948 International tractor was his peaceful infatuation.
Sometimes we’d spend Sunday nights and my parents would drop us off at Fernbank just in time to start the school week on Monday morning. Sometimes we slept in our school clothes for the next day, so we could easily be carried to the car early the next morning and make our way to Charleston to start the school week.
If we weren’t there to stay, then we were en route to and from that place that we loved so much. We were always on the run, going to football games in the fall, lacrosse games in the spring, and wrestling matches in between. It was almost like we lived and traveled with Lewisburg constantly on our radar screen. It was our hub. We came and went so often, and I’m so glad we did!
“I’d rather be in Greenbrier County” – that was our family motto.
With four kids, there was always some kind of chaos taking place. Disorder was the normal way of life.
My parents hosted many gatherings in Lewisburg. Lots of Bloody Marys and bluegrass music. I remember one particular party when my brother Lyle showed up with smut on is face… “Would you tell my mom I need her…my motorcycle just blew up!” I will never forget the look on that lady’s face.
When I was about five, we arrived to Lewisburg late one night following a Virginia college basketball game with some close family friends whose oldest son was playing. We pulled into our dark driveway after the long travel. Our woody station wagon was full with two sets of parents, two of my brothers, two of our friends’ sons, and the only girl (me) sat up front between my mom and dad. We were all talking about where we were going to sleep…”I want the top bunk”…”I get the couch.” “I get the comfortable bed.” All the boys declared their sleeping location. My dad, being protective, grumbles loudly…”Lisa, you sleep with me and your Mama!” I proclaimed confidently that he did not have to worry…that I was a lesbian! Our friends like to bring it up often with a laugh, and I am proud of my quick thinking strategy at five years old. It worked. I got the bottom bunk that I loved so much.
Some other specific memories: rustling in the leaves in the fall, riding motorcycles, sled riding, bluegrass music, and “clearing land” at Thanksgiving, driving up for the new oasis on Snowshoe Mountain. (My mom still has her awesome full body ski suit.) Our dog Muskin running into the woods as soon as we arrived…often not coming back for hours, but always returning with the strong smell of spring woods or the pungent stink of going into battle with a skunk (still today, that smell evokes wonderful memories of my childhood in Greenbrier County).
Chaos is not uncommon in a big family. During a televised football game at one of the many Thanksgiving holidays we spent at Smithover, my older brother surprised us all during the half time show. He pulled out his shotgun (safely, but without warning) and struck a buck from our back deck, out of nowhere. The younger kids jumped for joy. Once the gun was locked away, they ran to inspect the kill. It was not a customary family event. One of my cousins left with her young child and did not return on that trip. But she did eventually return. Your family can really turn you off…but it always amazes me how you come back home for the holidays. That is the beauty of family. They say you can’t pick your family….but I sure would pick mine if I had the chance.
Dysfunctional, but fiercely loyal and never boring.
Tomorrow: For the Love of Food